Only days after Guardian writer Arwa Mahdawi criticized the current pop-star obsession with "burqa swag," another editorial from the publication is providing an upfront look at Islamic women intent on proving traditional, modest dress and high fashion can go hand in hand. These women view the abaya (cloak), niqab (face veil), burqa (whole-body-covering dress), and hijab (head-and-shoulder scarf) as just another mode of female expression, and more importantly, one of their own choosing. Sheikha Raya Al-Khalifa, an interview subject, vividly embodies this ethos: She wears her abaya with Valentino heels, bright-red nails, gold jewelry, and full makeup, and she rejects the idea that the religious dress code has been forced on her, saying the garment merely reflects part of Islamic culture — a view that more and more women are expressing.
"These women insist that they do not equate modest dressing with persecution, but that wearing an abaya can be a statement both of individual choice and style," writes Elizabeth Day. A culmination of this idea could be seen at September's Qatari exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which showcased futuristic interpretations of traditional Islamic dress. Embroidered abayas got paired with accessories like Philip Treacy headdresses and Asprey handbags for a surreal effect. The event's organizer, Farhleen Allsopp, comments, "The abaya [is] a garment of style and modesty much like the kimono and sari have been with Japanese and Indian cultures. In my view, the abaya is a garment of expression rather than of oppression." Day also notes the recent and overt Islamic influence on designers such as Riccardo Tisci, Karl Lagerfeld, and Valentino, as well as the skyrocketing profitability of selling high fashion to women in the Middle East.
Feminist writer Caitlin Moran contemplated the illusion of "veils" in her memoir, How to Be a Woman, and makes a great point. "Who are you being protected from?" she writes. "Men. And who – so long as you play by the rules, and wear the correct clothes – is protecting you from the men? Men. And who is it that is regarding you as just a sexual object, instead of another human being, in the first place? Men." (The Guardian)